But they are also, I believe, generally misunderstood. Sanctions are normally intended to alter the behavior of the country being sanctioned — to punish it for what it is doing, to keep it from continuing practices or policies others find objectionable, or both.
And overtly, that is the function of these sanctions. But that is not their actual purpose.
Now, I do not know whether Iran’s government has a hidden military agenda to its nuclear program. Given Israel’s own nuclear capabilities, and the very different fates of Iraq (which had no nuclear weapons) and North Korea (which did), any sensible country anywhere on Israel’s enemies list — which is by extension today America’s target list — would acquire a deliverable nuclear capability by any means whatsoever as soon as possible.
But the reality is to see sanctions against Iran in the same light as inspections for the non-existent WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq in 2002-2003. In those days, the US and its close partners kept insisting that Iraq had WMDs when none of the inspectors on the ground, including the US representatives, found or believed it had.
Yet the claims persisted, and the purpose was to condition the US public for a war that need never have happened, except for Israel and its partisans in the US. And they succeeded. Americans generally believed the false claims, generally supported the war against Iraq, and whatever disenchantment occurred took place only because the war and the subsequent occupation did not proceed as smoothly as its architects had intended.
This is the pattern being repeated against Iran. The real purpose of sanctions is not to affect the policies of the Iranian government, because nothing it does will affect the sanctions. It is to prepare the US public for an attack against Iran, almost certainly in conjunction with Israel, to destroy Israel’s last remaining competitor in the region and to provide a cover for Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, into Jordan and the Sinai respectively.
So it would be unwise either to disregard sanctions or to try to accommodate them. The only sensible response, I believe, for Iran and its friends is to put in place something that the US would not dare to attack. That inevitably means something with or from China or India, especially the former, no matter what the cost — because anything expended to preclude a US-Israeli strike would be far cheaper than enduring that strike and its aftermath, even if the region then exploded in America’s face. Watching an enemy suffer is fine, but not at that price.
*Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the US Army War College